Fast racing for 50 somethings

Rich Roberts on the winning Australians taking part in the 18ft Skiff International Grand Prix in San Francisco

Wednesday September 1st 2004, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States
John Winning has been racing what may be the world's most temperamental sailboat for 29 years, or before some of his rivals in the third annual 18ft Skiff International Regatta were born. He won the class's Giltinan classic - unofficially, the world title - in 2000 and, at 52, is still ranked second in the world.

The Australian veteran has learned that the little things count, as they did Tuesdaywhen he and his crew of Euan McNicol and Jack Young sailed Computer Associates to a sweep of both races in front of the host St. Francis Yacht Club.

That left them one point behind countryman Trevor Barnabas and six up on third-place Californian Howie Hamlin - who, incidentally, admit to 52 and 51 birthdays, respectively - with four of nine races sailed in the competition scheduled through Friday. Clearly, it's not a young man's class.

When those guys talk, their rivals would do well to listen to their elders. Among them they have won eight Giltinans.

Everyone dealt with tricky tides and puffy wind of 15 knots blowing through the wind tunnel known as the Golden Gate, but Winning credited a small gear change for the way they breezed wire to wire in both three-lap races around a mile-long windward-leeward course.

"We were short on [mast] raking yesterday," he said, referring to his opening day pair of thirds. "We were set up for more wind." As for the tide, he noted, "it was coming in for the first race, but in the end it was running hard out."

The tides on his home waters of Sydney Harbour run about 1 knot while those on San Francisco Bay not only are as strong as 4 knots in either direction but, as Winning said, "in the section we sail it's going in different directions at the same time."

Barnabas, with son Trent and Robert Greuter on Omega Smeg, noted that puffs also were a factor. "There's some big gains and losses out there [depending on whether] you tack in breeze or no breeze," he said.

What it all adds up to is that the 18s go so fast - often faster than the wind - that all variable factors are magnified into dramatic switches in position.

Hamlin followed Monday's pair of seconds with a sixth and a fourth Tuesday but insisted it wasn't because of losing veteran forward crew Rod Howell with a knee injury in Monday's second race. Hamlin scrambled to replace him with Trevor Bozina, a 20 year old member of the St. Francis junior program who had sailed but never raced on an 18. Mike Martin remained in the middle on West Marine.

"Trevor wasn't holding us back," Hamlin said. "He did a great job. The only problem is that we're lighter now. He's 40 pounds less than Rod. That's OK in light wind but not if it blows." There are no weight limits, maximum or minimum, on the 18s.

There were a few flips in the back of the eight-boat fleet but the most serious damage was to Dalton Bergan's bowsprit. Bergan, a close second in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 49er class, is sailing with Jeff Nelson and Kevin Richards. They had a steady 4-5-4 regatta going until the busted sprit caused them to capsize on the day's last downwind leg and cost them a DNF (did not finish). The good news is they'll be able to discard their worst result after the fifth race Wednesday. There will be two throwouts if the regatta goes the nine-race limit.

Standings (after 4 of 9 races):

1. Omega Smeg, Trevor Barnabas/Trent Barnabas/Rob Greuter, Aussie 18 Sailing League, Australia, 1-1-3-2, 7 points.
2. Computer Associates, John Winning/Euan McNicol/Jack Young, Aussie 18 Sailing League, Australia, 3-3-1-1, 8.
3. West Marine, Howard Hamlin/Mike Martin/Trevor Bozina, Newport Harbor YC, Newport Beach, Calif., 2-2-6-4, 14.
4. Fisher & Paykel, Grant Rollerson/Paul Williams/Gen Raffael, Aussie 18 Sailing League, Australia, 6-4-5-3, 18.
5. Sunrise, Patrick Whitmarsh/Paul Allen/Chad Freitas, St. Francis YC, San Francisco, 5-7-2-5, 19.
6. Vodka Cruiser, Dalton Bergan/Jeff Nelson/Kevin Richards, Newport Harbor YC, Newport Beach, Calif., 4-5-4-9, 22.
7. Emery Worldwide, Dana Jones/Jon Bell/Campbell Rivers, Ventura (Calif.) YC/St. Francis YC, 9-6-7-7, 29.
8. Canada 1, Fred Eaton/Dan Cunningham/Rob Patterson, Royal Canadian YC, Toronto, 9-9-8-6, 32.

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